- John King’s Diary
- Georgiana McCrae’s Diary
- John Pascoe Fawkner’s Diary
- Simon Wonga’s Diary
- Convict’s Diary
John King’s Diary
John King (1841-1872), explorer, was born on 5 December 1841 in County Tyrone, Ireland. He joined the 70th Regiment at 14 and went with it to India. The regiment was later involved in the mutiny and King was present at some of the main engagements. While convalescent in 1859 he met George James Landells who was in India buying camels for Robert O’Hara Burke’s expedition.
Burke’s expedition, sponsored by the Royal Society of Victoria, was fêted as it left Melbourne on 20 August 1860. Early in October they reached Menindee where Landells resigned and King was put in charge of the camels. He was also chosen as one of the advance party which set out for Cooper’s Creek. They reached it on 11 November and set up Camp LXV. The party split again; Burke, William Wills, King and Charley Gray, a sailor, were to make a dash to the Gulf of Carpentaria, 750 miles (1207 km) away, while the depot was left in charge of William Brahe who was expected to wait there for at least three months, as the rearguard with further supplies was expected to arrive in a few days.
The four men with six camels and a horse managed to travel some fourteen miles (23 km) a day, reaching their goal on the tidewaters of the Albert River on 11 February 1861. Their return trip was disastrous. They lost their only horse and four of the six camels and ran low in rations. On 17 April Gray died. Four days later the exhausted men made a superhuman effort and in one day covered the remaining thirty miles (48 km) to Camp LXV, arriving at 7.30 in the evening. The only human sign was the word DIG carved on a tree. They dug and found a box of rations and a message from Brahe that the rearguard had not arrived and that he had decided that very morning to return to Menindee with his men. King’s surviving camels were too weak to pursue Brahe’s party so Burke decided to make for Mount Hopeless, 150 miles (241 km) away, and after two days rest they set out. For two months they struggled through inhospitable country, with their food diminishing, and growing weaker every day. Late in June Burke and Wills died, but incredibly King survived, kept alive by the kindness of Aboriginals until a relief expedition found him, half demented by starvation and loneliness, near to death himself.
King was taken back to Melbourne and given a public welcome. He never recovered from his privations on the expedition and died of tuberculosis on 15 January 1872 at his home in St Kilda.
Georgiana McCrae’s Diary
The family first lived in a wooden house in Bourke Street. In February 1842 they moved to Mayfield, on the Yarra River (near Studley Park), designed by her and described as ‘one of the first superior houses erected in the Colony’. In 1843 Andrew took up the Arthur’s Seat run near Dromana, and there built a house in which the family lived from 1845 to 1851. Probably because of the turmoil arising from the gold discoveries, Andrew abandoned squatting to become police magistrate at Alberton (Gippsland), then at Barrow’s Inn, Hepburn, Creswick, and finally for seventeen years at Kilmore, where he was also warden for the goldfields, deputy-sheriff and commissioner of crown lands. He retired in 1866 and died in 1874. Georgiana did not accompany him in all these moves but lived with her children in Melbourne. She died on 24 May 1890 at Hawthorn. Of her seven surviving children, the eldest, George Gordon, was a writer and the friend of writers, and the youngest son, Farquhar Peregrine, became inspector of the Bank of Australasia.
It was said that her skill in managing the Aboriginals at Arthur’s Seat was acknowledged by other runholders; she was as useful as a drover among cattle and horses, and was renowned as a ‘medicine woman’. Mayfield and the homestead at Arthur’s Seat were resorted to by people with literary and artistic leanings, and her visitors included Bishop William Grant Broughton, William Charles Wentworth, Benjamin Boyd,’Orion’ Horne, Henry Kendall, Adam Lindsay Gordon, Richard Birnie, Sir Oswald Brierly,Nicholas Chevalier, and Sir John Franklin. She was a close friend of Lieutenant-GovernorCharles La Trobe and his wife.
According to an obituary by Alexander Sutherland, ‘It was largely due to the influence of such women as Mrs McCrae that ideas of refinement and principles of taste were kept alive during the “dark ages” of our colonial history’.
John Pascoe Fawkner’s Diary
John Pascoe Fawkner (1792-1869), pioneer, was born on 20 October 1792 at Cripplegate, London, the son of John Fawkner, a metal refiner, and Hannah, née Pascoe. His father was convicted of receiving stolen goods and in 1801 was sentenced to fourteen years transportation. With his mother and younger sister, Elizabeth, John accompanied his father to the new settlement to be formed in Bass Strait. They joined H.M.S. Calcutta at Portsmouth and sailed on 29 April 1803 in company with the Ocean, carrying a number of free settlers and stores.
Life in Tasmania
However, by 1806 the family held a 50-acre (20 ha) land grant some seven miles (11 km) from Hobart Town, and John, as the shepherd boy, often lived alone for weeks at a time in a sod hut while his sister kept house for their father in the town.
In the company of Eliza Cobb, Fawkner moved to Launceston to begin afresh as a builder and sawyer. They were married on 5 December 1822. Although he claimed in later years that he had chosen his wife from an immigrant ship, Eliza actually arrived late in 1818, aged 17, as a convict whose crime was stealing a baby. Beside building, Fawkner also followed his old trade of baker. Fawkner possessed, as James Bonwick stated, ‘a native energy that made him rise superior to all assaults, endure all sneers, quail at no difficulty, and that thrust him ever foremost in the strife, happy in the war of words and the clash of tongues’. He had engaged in a strenuous programme of self-education and to his many activities he added that of ‘bush lawyer’ appearing in the lower courts for a minimum fee of 6s. He also managed a horticultural nursery and conducted a coaching service, independent in both name and nature, between Launceston and Longford. In 1828 he started the Launceston Advertiser, acting as editor for two years, and using the paper as ‘the active and avowed friend of the emancipist class in Van Diemen’s Land, dealing heavy and repeated blows upon officialdom and the reputed respectable class in the island’. He attacked capital punishment in a colony that valued ‘a man’s life at less than a sheep’, and made forceful remarks on cruelty to assigned servants.
Moving to Melbourne
Having visited Western Port, the expedition agreed to try Port Phillip Bay, and the Enterpriseanchored in the southern part of the bay on Sunday, 16 August 1835. Fawkner himself landed at Hobson’s Bay in October 1835 and at once began to lay the foundations of a fortune that grew to £20,000 in his first four years on the mainland. In January 1838 he added to his trade of hotel-keeping that of newspaper proprietor. His Melbourne Advertiser was handwritten on four pages of foolscap for nine numbers until a press and type arrived from Tasmania, and it was then printed weekly until suppressed because Fawkner had no licence. In February 1839, with a licence, he began the Port Phillip Patriot and Melbourne Advertiser; this later became a daily, and he ran it in conjunction with a bookselling and stationery business. In 1839 Fawkner also added to his already considerable land holdings a 780-acre (316 ha) property known as Pascoe Vale.
Because of a complex of causes, including land and livestock speculation, a crazy financial structure with bank loans on little security, and a three-year drought, prices plummeted and land revenue fell by three-quarters in 1842. Although not a speculator himself, Fawkner was forced to sell many of his properties in an attempt to weather the worst of the depression. A fortunate and substantial settlement in favour of his wife enabled him to retain a large portion of the Pascoe Vale estate, and by signing over the Patriot to his father he kept control of the newspaper. His financial affairs were further complicated by his part in guaranteeing a bond of W. Rucker to the Union Bank for £10,000. Fawkner was declared insolvent and filed his schedule in March 1845, listing liabilities of £8898 and assets of £3184. He claimed at the time to have been stripped of £12,000 in cash and ten houses, but such was his soundness that within a year he had not only paid his debts in full but had £1000 to his bank credit.
A leading figure in Melbourne
As a man of property and influence, Fawkner took an active and leading part in the political and social struggles of the time. First, as one of seven market commissioners and, when this work was taken over by the municipality, as a councillor, Fawkner held office for many years. He represented Talbot in the first Legislative Council in 1851, and on the introduction of responsible government was returned for the Central Province of Victoria holding the seat until his death. During his eighteen years in the Legislative Council Fawkner spoke regularly and often (one member said he made the same speech for fifteen years) on all matters before the House, but was best known for his ‘monomania’ on squatters and the disposal of land. Markedly liberal in his views, Fawkner considered that squatters had obtained their rights by a system of robbery and that parliament enacted class legislation aimed at protecting the 700 privileged sheep-farmers in Victoria and grinding ‘the bulk of the people to the very dust’. Fawkner was referred to as ‘the tribune of the people’ and was perhaps the best, and certainly the most out-spoken, advocate of a strong class of yeomen farmers. One of his published pamphlets, printed in 1854, was Squatting Orders … Orders in Council … Locking Up the Lands of the Colony in the Hands of a Small Minority, Giving Them, Without Any Real Reason, the Right to Buy the Whole or Any Part of the Sixty Million Acres of This Fine Colony, at Their Own Price …
After the opening of the goldfields of Victoria in 1851, Fawkner devoted much of his time to the legislative aspects of gold-mining problems. He sat on some ninety-six select committees between 1852 and 1869, the most far-reaching in its effect being the Commission of Inquiry into the goldfields in 1854-55. He was alarmed by the Chinese and American immigrants, and saw both groups as potential sources of disorder. The presence of the Chinese might lead to civil war, he considered; he would have liked to expel them all. In September 1855 he wrote of ‘wild Americans—who know no law but the Bowie Knife, the Rifle or Lynch practice’.
With advancing years Fawkner’s health declined but he continued to attend every session, wearing always a velvet smoking cap and wrapped in an old-fashioned cloak. He had grown to be regarded as an institution, and became more conservative in his views. In his last parliamentary sessions he opposed manhood suffrage, the secret ballot, and payment for members, yet retained very advanced notions on the rights of married women and deserted wives, and the divorce laws. Though cantankerous and dogmatic, he was a selfless patriot, honest and, in his way, idealistic. His last words to parliament declared his faith: ‘I believe the Colony requires new blood, and that, unless we get more working men here, the work of improvement must stand still, if it does not retrograde’.
In his middle years he had been spoken of as ‘half-froth, half-venom’, and in many ways was not a very pleasant character, but behind his almost violent aggressiveness lay the pursuit of worthy motives, and a freedom from immorality and corruption that was sufficiently rare in that generation to inspire the confidence of his less fortunate fellows. His triumph over heredity and early experiences and his struggles with autocracy, convictism and corruption, demonstrated the strength of his purpose, and his rehabilitation and later career were remarkable. Fawkner died on 4 September 1869 at his home in Smith Street, Collingwood, the grand old man of contemporary Victoria.
Simon Wonga’s Diary
Simon Wonga was born near Healesville in the 1820s. His father, Billibellary, was a respected leader and one of the ‘chiefs’ of the Wurundjeri who met John Batman in 1835. When Wonga was in his mid-teens, he severely injured his foot while he was hunting and was cared for by William Thomas, Assistant Aboriginal Protector. Wonga soon befriended Thomas and his son, and even began calling Thomas marminarta, meaning ‘father’.
Wonga shared much of his understanding of traditional culture, language and beliefs with Thomas. He also learnt from Thomas how European society worked – information that would help him to develop into the skilled and respected negotiator he became in later life.
By 1851 Wonga had become ngurungaeta or headman of the Wurundjeri people.
Wonga was also one of the first Indigenous leaders to try and regain the land settlers had taken. In 1859, Wonga took a small group of Taungurong men from the Goulburn River to see William Thomas, acting as their interpreter and mediator. In a letter to Redmond Barry, Thomas quotes Wonga:
I bring my friends Goulburn Blacks, they want a block of land in their country where they may sit down plant corn potatoes etc etc, and work like white man. – Simon Wonga
After this meeting, a deputation was sent to the Commissioner of the Land and Survey Office where they met with officials and secured a portion of land for the Taungurong. A precedent had been set, and in 1860, Wonga returned to Thomas to ask for a piece of land for his own Wurundjeri people. The land he asked for later became the Coranderrk Aboriginal Mission. Wonga died there in 1875.
A convict’s life was neither easy nor pleasant. The work was hard, accommodation rough and ready and the food none too palatable. Nevertheless the sense of community offered small comforts when convicts met up with their mates from the hulks back home, or others who had been transported on the same ship.
Male convicts were brought ashore a day or so after their convoy landed arrival. They were marched up to the Government Lumber Yard, where they were stripped, washed, inspected and had their vital statistics recorded.
If convicts were skilled, for example carpenters, blacksmiths or stonemasons, they may have been retained and employed on the government works programme. Otherwise they were assigned to labouring work or given over to property owners, merchant or farmers who may once have been convicts themselves.
A convict’s daily rations were by no means substantial. Typically, they would consist of:
Breakfast: A roll and a bowl of skilly, a porridge-like dish made from oatmeal, water, and if they were lucky, scrapings meat.
Lunch: A large bread roll and a pound of dried, salted meat.
Dinner: One bread roll and, if they were lucky, a cup of tea.
As if this wasn’t enough to turn your stomach, the officials had an unpleasant cure for hangovers and drunkenness, which they imposed on convicts who were overly fond of rum. The ‘patient’ was forced to drink a quart of warm water containing a wine-glass full of spirits and five grains of tartar emetic. He was then carried to a darkened room, in the centre of which was a large drum onto which he was fastened. The drum was revolved rapidly, which made the patient violently sick. He was then put to bed, supposedly disgusted by the smell of spirits!
Until 1810 convicts were permitted to wear ordinary civilian clothes in Australia. The new Governor, Lachlan Macquarie, wanted to set the convicts apart from the increasing numbers of free settlers who were flocking to Australia.
The distinctive new uniform marked out the convicts very clearly. The trousers were marked with the letters PB, for Prison Barracks. They were buttoned down the sides of the legs, which meant they could be removed over a pair of leg irons.
Convict Class System
A class system evolved amidst the convict community. The native born children of convict couples were known as ‘currency’, whereas the children of officials were known as ‘sterling’.
A wealthy class of ‘Emancipists’ (former convicts) sprung up when the Governor began to integrate reformed convicts to the fledgling society. These Emancipists, who often employed convicts in their turn, were very much despised by the soldiers and free-exclusives who had come to Australia of their own free will.
For those convicts who remained in Sydney, lodgings were available in a neighbourhood calledThe Rocks. It was a fairly free community with few restrictions on daily life. Here, husbands and wives could be assigned to each other and some businesses were even opened by convicts still under sentence.
The Rocks became notorious for drunkenness, prostitution, filth and thieving, and in 1819 Governor MacQuarie built Hyde Park Barracks, which afforded greater security.
Those sent to work in other towns or in the bush were often given food and lodging by their employer. The road projects and penal colonies offered far less comfortable accommodation, often with 20 sweaty bodies crammed into a small hut.
Women made up 15% of the convict population. They are reported to have been low-class women, foul mouthed and with loose morals. Nevertheless they were told to dress in clothes from London and lined up for inspection so that the officers could take their pick of the prettiest.
Until they were assigned work, women were taken to the Female Factories, where they performed menial tasks like making clothes or toiling over wash-tubs. It was also the place where women were sent as a punishment for misbehaving, if they were pregnant or had illegitimate children.
Other punishments for women include an iron collar fastened round the neck, or having her head shaved as a mark of disgrace. Often these punishments were for moral misdemeanours, such as being ‘found in the yard of an inn in an indecent posture for an immoral purpose‘, or ‘misconduct in being in a brothel with her mistress’ child‘.
As women were a scarcity in the colony, if they married they could be assigned to free settlers. Often, desperate men would go looking for a wife at the Female Factories.